Coming soon to Iran: A new, armed U.S. stealth drone?

Officially, the General Atomics-made Avenger — a sleek, jet-powered upgrade of the iconic armed Predator and Reaper — is heading to Afghanistan as a combat-capable “test asset.” The Air Force said in a statement that it loves how the Avenger’s “internal weapons bay and four hardpoints on each wing,” will give it “greater flexibility and will accommodate a large selection of next generation sensor and weapons payloads,” as reported by Zach Rosenberg at Flightglobal.

Problem is, you don’t really need those things in Afghanistan. Weapons bays are for stealth: most warplanes don’t have them. And it’s not like the Taliban has been firing radar-guided missiles at NATO aircraft. Besides, there are already dozens of armed drones in Afghanistan. One more isn’t going to make much of a difference.

Which begs the question: is the 41-foot-long Avenger really meant for Afghanistan? Or is it destined to patrol over Afghanistan’s unruly neighbors, Iran and Pakistan, both of which do have radar-guided missiles? That was a job assigned to the Lockheed Martin RQ-170 Sentinel before one of those drones crashed in Iran two weeks ago. We’re sure the Air Force has a few more RQ-170s to throw at Iran and Pakistan. After all, the elusive ‘bots have been spotted in Afghanistan, South Korea and Japan. But the Avenger, which debuted just two years ago, is newer and more capable than the Sentinel, which is widely believed to be a product of the early 2000s.